After seeing three employees depart following accusations of bullying and mismanagement in July, the Stowe Free Library has increased membership and circulation numbers, replaced at least one of the departed employees and completed “respect in the workplace” training.
At a September meeting of the library trustees, the first since the exodus occurred, library director Cindy Weber announced that circulation had grown over the summer and 100 new patrons had been added since July.
Most of the trustees meeting was dedicated to going over the finer details of the library’s sizable trust fund investments with a Morgan Stanley financial manager. The fund contains an operating budget of approximately $25,000, has a development account of approximately $32,000 and an endowment of about $1.2 million. The library's mostly tax-payer funded overall operating budget is approximately $555,000.
Add another $14,000 on top of that from the summer’s book sale.
There was no discussion about the three departed employees, any discussion about the work environment or questioning of Weber about her handling of the situation at the trustees meeting.
Departing employees, former circulation librarian Cindy Stafford, former technical librarian Lauren Kelley and former systems librarian Marena Youngs described a “toxic work environment” where unchecked bullying by one unnamed employee was allowed to occur.
Minutes from a trustees meeting held in July, prior to the three employees’ departure, reveal that Weber worked with the trustees to codify a policy to justify the actions of the employee whose actions had directly led to Stafford’s resignation.
In her resignation letter, Stafford said she had seated a library visitor in the children’s section, and a coworker berated the visitor to the point that they left and later called to ask for an apology.
At the July meeting, Weber told trustees there was a need to clarify that adults are not allowed in the juvenile area without a child.
“There was recently a woman asked to leave the section and felt she was being accused of being dangerous,” Weber told the trustees. “Some of the staff are very black and white regarding policy/procedure, so we need to be very specific in the policy to allow them to take proper action.”
When Weber proposed enacting a policy that allowed librarians to take action to restrict the “lengthy” occupation of adults in the children section, trustees chair Kelley Spear suggested removing the word “lengthy” to enable librarians to act as they saw fit.
According to the minutes from this meeting, there was not any discussion of the policy relating to a library employee’s actions or the incident that led to Stafford’s resignation.
When reached for comment, Spear said the trustees could not comment on personnel matters, but commended library employees in general on enduring “unimagined events” over the last few years, including flooding, fire and then a pandemic.
“They have been devoted and contemplative while serving the community, keeping current in library trends and policies as well as keeping the library moving into the future,” she said.
When Stafford brought her concerns to Stowe town manager Charles Safford along with the other employees, she said she felt dismissed.
Stafford said getting a union representative involved prompted the town manager to agree to bring in a mediator for the employees, an allegation he denies.
Though Stafford and the others left before the mediator could get involved in the situation, Weber said she and Nancy Rumery, the children’s librarian and the only remaining employee after the departure of Stafford and others, had completed training on workplace behavior.
“The remaining staff member and myself have participated in workplace training through a professional consultant with an emphasis on respect in the workplace. We plan to continue with online workshops provided by other resources,” she said.
In an email to the Stowe Reporter immediately following an August article on the employees’ departure from Stowe Free Library, Safford said he had acted in accordance with town policy, that it was not his intention for the employees to feel “demeaned” by him as Stafford said she did, and that a union representative did not prompt the progressive disciplinary action he undertook.
“My intent with the employees raising the concerns was not to diminish their perspective, but to provide them context that I wasn’t in a position to terminate the employee they raised concerns about for creating a ‘toxic work environment’ or the librarian,” he said in August.
Safford reiterated this claim this week, apologized to former employees, and took full responsibility for how the situation played out.
“I apologize to the former employees who indicated that my comments were dismissive,” Safford said. “At no time did the IBEW business manager push me to take corrective action during our meetings or subsequent to them. I think he understood I was trying to make a sincere effort to bring resources to bear to improve the work environment. However, it is clear that I failed to effectively communicate this to the former employees. In the end, I am always responsible for when there is not a successful outcome. I am committed to continuing to work with all employees to ensure a positive work environment.”
Weber recently hired Sarah Johnson to replace Stafford as the new circulation librarian. Johnson recently moved to the area from out of state and is working on her Vermont certificate of librarianship, according to Weber.
Weber said the library had been relying heavily on the help of a retired librarian since the former employees left. She’s currently interviewing for an assistant director/adult services librarian and still accepting applications for a technical service and systems librarian.
Language in this article was updated on Oct. 14 to indicate that library trustees were discussing the library's trust fund investments and clarified that its overall operating budget is approximately $555,000.